Saturday, 13th May, 2023

[Day 1153]

When we got up this morning, Meg and I put ourselves in a good mood by listening to some stunning performances on a CD I had liberated from somewhere. These were ‘Best recordings of 2011’ or something similar and some of the artists were incredibly good e.g. Placido Domingo and Thomas Hampton singing the famous duet from Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers’. So after this and breakfasting, we popped down into town a little early because after picking up the (bulky) Saturday newspapers, I needed to make a lightning visit into town to get some money out of an ATM. On the way back to the car, I very quickly scanned the CDs in our local Salvation Army charity shop. They were selling the CDs at 50p each or three for £1 but as one of them was a double CD, I actually got 4 for my £1.00 One of them was a collection of the classic piano recordings of Horowitz which could grace anybody’s collection. The other three were a mixture of classical and some ‘crossover’ artists which made for an interesting ‘light’ listening experience. As I type, I am listening to a hymn by the Benedictine nuns of Notre Dame which is out of my usual listening experience, I must say. Once we actually got as far as Waitrose, two of our regular friends were waiting for us and we were soon joined by our University of Birmingham friend. I had taken along some of the amusing birhday cards I had been sent to share the fun around a little and then then we got onto a variety of ‘Travellers tales'( (on my part) and a bit of ‘Did you know what..’ kind of story telling. I did rabbit on a little too long but it was one of those mornings when one story springs from another. After that it was a case of a bit of shop-up for some of the things that Waitrose sells but Aldi does not. When we got home, we had a special lunch as a treat for ourselves. Our domestic help had initially forgotten it was my birthday last Thursday so she raced around to buy some special boef bourbignone which she knows we particularly like, coupled with a sweet of rapberry panny cotta and a bottle of excellent Rioja. I think the idea was that instead of going out, Meg and I could enjoy a magnificent birthday meal at home – which we did. The meal was so good I immediately texted our friend in gratitude and she sent me back a photo of some double chocolate brownies she was preparing as a family treat whilst they wil be watching the Eurovision song contest this evening.

When I consulted the TV schedules for watching when we return from church this evening, I thought there was going to be a real clash – but one we can resolve. Tonight is the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest and I know that the UK song is to be performed last. This show goes on from 8.00 until midnight but of course the voting is often the most exciting part at the end of the evening. In the early part of the evening there is a showing of Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd‘ which we have seen several times before but can always be watched over and over again. So we can have a bit of high culture in the early part of the evening and then switch over for a bit of the ‘boom-bam-a-bam’ type of stuff which characterises practically every entry these days. I have a particular penchant for the more pensive ‘chanson’ type of contribution which is all too rare these days but which was typified par excellence by a past UK No. 1 in 1968 which was Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those were the Days‘ (but not actually a Eurovision winner).

The war in Ukraine may (or may not) be entering a critical phase. Perhaps as part of a general offensive, Ukraine has forced Russian troops to withdraw from the southern flank of the Bakhmut operation ‘in bad order’, highlighting a ‘severe shortage of credible combat units’, according to British military intelligence. Of course, all of this might just be positive Western military spin and the whole of this phase of the war does rather call into mind WW1 in which battles and enormous loss of life were fought over a few hundred yards of terrain. But if the accounts are more correct than incorrect, then the Ukrainians may well take heart from any recent advances, however small, and the stories of low morale amongst the Russian military personnel are neither new or surprising. Very strange things are happening in this war as the Russians seem to have ‘outsourced’ some of the conflict to a group of mercenaries known as the Wagner group which has recently been openly critical of both Putin and the Kremlin. The Wagner group seem to be demanding extra ammunitions or else threatening to withdraw from the immediate conflict zones but one cannot imagine divisions within the ‘enemy’ ranks bodes well for their eventual success. On the other hand, the Russians have had a long time during the winter to prepare defences like trenches in depth – again, very redolent of WWI but the irony of all of this is that the city at the centre of the hostilities (Bakhmut) does not seem to be of much strategic significance in any case.